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Planning News - 16 August 2018

Published: Thursday, 16th August 2018

Campaigners challenge Heathrow NPS in the High Court, Councils urged to use planning powers to press forward on housebuilding and more stories...

This weeks planning news in association with The Planner, the official magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

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Friends of the Earth has launched a legal challenge against the government’s decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow Airport, claiming it is unlawful because it fails to address the UK’s climate change obligations.

Friends of the Earth’s lawyers Leigh Day filed papers with the High Court on 6 August 2018 asking for the Airports NPS published in June to be quashed.

The campaign group is seeking to challenge the legal basis of the government’s decision to designate the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), claiming that the NPS fails to account for all the impacts on future generations, “who will be left with the adverse consequences of growth from aviation-increasing climate impacts”.

In June, MPs voted 415 to 119 to approve the expansion of the Heathrow Airport with a third runway, the government’s preferred scheme for increasing airport capacity in the South East.

Friends of the Earth considers the Airports NPS amounts to a breach of the UK’s climate change policy and its sustainable development duties. The challenge has been brought because the campaign group thinks the NPS does not explain how it takes account of domestic targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction under the Climate Change Act 2008.

Additionally:

  • It does not factor in the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.
  • It fails to factor in the non-CO2 climate impacts of a third runway, such as the emission of nitrogen oxides, which generate warming effects of a similar magnitude to CO2 emissions.
  • It does not lawfully and fully consider the likely impact of a third runway on future generations, who will be stranded with the climate-damaging infrastructure.

Liz Hutchins, director of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said: “The government’s airports strategy completely ignores its obligations to tackle climate change – this is short-sighted, incredibly reckless and we believe it is unlawful.

“Allowing the aviation industry to pump more pollution into the atmosphere will make it far harder to prevent catastrophic climate change – and leaves future generations to suffer the consequences.

“It’s time to end our reliance on the fossil fuels that are already roasting our planet and threatening people’s lives, homes and livelihoods.”

Rowan Smith, a member of the public law team at Leigh Day, said: “In no sensible terms can this be described as sustainable development, when the additional costs of carbon-offsetting and the global warming potential of non-CO2 emissions from aviation do not feature in the government’s plans.

“The government has a legal duty to take into account climate change policy and the Paris agreement it has committed to with the global community. The Airports National Policy Statement does not adequately consider those factors and we therefore will argue that it is unlawful.”

A decision on whether there will be a full hearing about these issues is expected to be made in the autumn.

8 August 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner


The body representing councils is signalling an end to polarised arguments about housing development that blames slow building rates on planning authorities or developers land banking.

The Local Government Association (LGA) says planning is no barrier to housing development, with councils approving nine out of 10 applications – amounting to permission for more than 350,000 homes.

Housebuilders currently have 423,000 homes with permission that are still unbuilt.

But it says the long-standing debate on unimplemented permissions and slow build-out rates now “needs to move beyond the binary argument of it being the ‘fault’ of local planning authorities or developers ‘hoarding land’”.

Latest LGA research calls for authorities and developers to “talk to each other” to understand what lies behind slow delivery on individual sites and nationally. Authorities should consider the range of planning powers they have to encourage speedy delivery.

“The planning system is not an isolated part of housing delivery and can only influence certain parts of the housing delivery chain, which are in turn impacted by a range of issues including the availability of finance, a lack of visibility on land ownership, and options on land,” said LGA environment, economy, housing and transport board chairman Martin Tett.

“There is also a myriad of wider economic factors which affect developer behaviours, including a lack of clarity on what will happen to housing markets post-Brexit.”

The research considers the potential for authorities to spur timely build-out of development. This includes understanding the proper use of pre-commencement conditions, which can delay starts on site, while early agreements on design codes can help streamline applications.

Enforcement powers and local development orders are among authorities’ planning powers to “get sites moving”, while Section 106 agreements should be used to encourage developers to build out speedily and ensure that councils demonstrate a five-year supply of land.

The LGA also says the “culture of a planning department and capability of officers” are crucial where leadership “is key at the political level and at senior officer level”. This also entails “empowering officers so that they are not just ‘post boxes’ for other views but have the capacity and capability to add value”.

9 August 2018
Huw Morris, The Planner


Existing nuclear sites should be used for a new wave of small reactors to avoid problems in the planning system, say government advisers.

Communities and councils around nuclear sites recognise the benefits of the industry to jobs and the local economy, according to the Expert Finance Working Group set up by the government to advise on private finance for developing small reactors.

Small nuclear reactors could be up and running by 2030 and would range from micro-generation projects through to 600MW reactors.

Sites that are acceptable to the community helps to “de-risk the planning and public consultation processes”, it said, thereby reducing the risks of delays and cost overruns on developments.

Using such sites would allow developers to use existing site licensees, which would reduce risks with licensing and regulatory compliance as well as construction and operating costs.

The advice is available here.

10 August 2018
Huw Morris, The Planner


Ministers are considering extending legislation promoting social value to planning, regeneration and community asset transfers under a new strategy.

The Civil Society Strategy aims to put people, communities, civic societies and charities at the heart of decision-making on public services.

Its ideas include extending to planning and asset transfers the Social Value Act 2012, which aims to enrich lives and promote a “fairer society for all”.

The strategy acknowledges that “well-meaning” regeneration schemes had “under-achieved” on community empowerment because they were “imposed from outside, and therefore lacked both local knowledge and legitimacy”. It calls for “place-based solutions” that are designed and delivered “with and by the people they are intended to help”.

The strategy also envisages a new generation of citizens’ juries to foster greater community empowerment, improving people’s understanding of how decisions are made, leading to better decisions by authorities.

As part of the strategy the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, alongside the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, will design a pilot programme, called “innovation in democracy” to look at more sustainable community spaces.

The government also pledges to publish updated guidance to help communities take ownership of local assets such as community buildings. The strategy is available here.

9 August 2018
Huw Morris, The Planner


A London-based architectural studio is proposing to encase Grenfell Tower in black concrete as a memorial to the 72 victims of the disaster.

Fire engulfed the 24-storey tower in June last year. The disaster is now the subject a major public inquiry.

Architectural practice JAA is proposing to leave the tower standing, encased in a full height sarcophagus made from 224 black concrete panels. The proposal includes a beacon in flat 16, where the blaze started, which would light up at night.

It also comprises adding a roof terrace that would feature a memorial garden while the first four floors of the tower would be repurposed to provide community facilities.

The practice said an anticipated memorial involving new homes on the site would mistakenly eradicate the “physical manifestation” of tragedy. It said the capital needed a “stark reminder” of the fire to make a repeat event less likely, drawing parallels with Ronan Point, a 22-storey tower block in East London that partially collapsed in 1968 after a gas explosion destroyed a load-bearing wall, killing four people.

“That the 50th anniversary of the tower’s partial collapse – an event that led to a comprehensive restructuring of building codes and practices in the UK – was not even mentioned in the media goes to show how Ronan Point is not only gone but on the whole forgotten,” said JAA. “This is reinforced further by the lack of physical memorial at the site; the building has long since been demolished and there are no signs, not even a small plaque, to remark on its once presence, nor its passing.”

In March, the government announced that residents would decide on a memorial for the Grenfell Tower site.

9 August 2018
Huw Morris, The Planner


Alan Jones has been elected as the next president of the Royal Institute of British Architects following an inflammatory election in which one candidate was issued with a ‘cease and desist’ letter by the organisation.

Jones won nearly 52 per cent of the vote on a near 19 per cent turnout, leaving Elsie Owusu in second place, with Philip Allsopp coming third.

Jones is the director of his own architecture practice based in County Antrim, a senior lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast and RIBA’s vice president for education.

On his election, he said: “As individuals and as an institution, we need to come together to make the most of our assets, and make the case for our profession. We need to gather evidence and realise a more significant role and position in business and society.”

Second-placed Owusu secured 32 per cent of the vote after a campaign in which she referred RIBA to the fraud squad amid allegations it had mislaid more than £1 million of members funds on a project at its headquarters in Portland Place, London.

She had also suggested chief executive Alan Vallance earns six times the average architects’ salary. This prompted RIBA to send a “cease and desist” letter ordering her to stop revealing details of the chief executive’s salary which are “business sensitive and personal to him”.

Owusu, elected a RIBA councillor, called on the new president to launch an independent review into the organisation's finances.

9 August 2018
Huw Morris, The Planer